Ramadan is a moment of integration, not exclusion

Law-abiding Muslims in Denmark deserve to be treated as full-fledged members of their society.
Sunday 27/05/2018
Danish Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing Inger Stoejberg. (Reuters)
Danish Minister for Immigration, Integration and Housing Inger Stoejberg. (Reuters)

Hardly had the Muslim holy month of Ramadan begun that a Danish minister issued a regrettable call for fasting Muslims to be excluded from the workplace.

Ironically, Inger Stoejberg is the minister in charge of the integration portfolio as well as immigration. Ramadan is an ideal time for Stoejberg to show commitment to integration. Ramadan is ideally suited to interfaith dialogue.

That didn’t seem to cross Stoejberg’s mind. Instead, she wrote in a tabloid newspaper: “I want to call on Muslims to take leave from work during the month of Ramadan to avoid negative consequences for the rest of Danish society.”

Fasting during Ramadan, she added, hampers “safety and productivity.” She singled out bus drivers whose fasting she ominously said “can be dangerous for all of us.”

Millions of Muslims in the West observe the religiously required fast during Ramadan without it interfering with their work or social responsibilities.

Stoejberg, however, offensively speculated about the obsolescence of one of the pillars of the Muslim faith. “I wonder if a religious order commanding observance to a 1,400-year-old pillar of Islam is compatible with the society and labour market that we have in Denmark in 2018,” she wrote.

The minister’s remarks drew criticism from Denmark’s largest trade union and its biggest bus operator, which employs many Muslim drivers. The United Federation of Danish Workers described Stoejberg’s comments as “far out,” stressing that it had “never heard of a single case where the fasting has been a problem.” Members of her centre-right Liberal Party, which leads the government, disavowed her claims as well.

That is not particularly surprising because Stoejberg’s remarks were ignorant and irresponsible. They can only fan the flames of bigotry and intolerance. They could lead to an informal two-stroke system for Danish citizens and residents, with Muslims denied the chance to be on a par with everyone else.

This is wrong. Law-abiding Muslims in Denmark deserve to be treated as full-fledged members of their society rather than as dangerous elements to be ostracised. In line with the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Muslims in Denmark are entitled to their faith and their religious practice. They are entitled, as Article 18 of the declaration says, to manifest their “religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”

They deserve no less in a tolerant society such as Denmark. Its minister of integration is selling the country short.

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